Saturday, September 26, 2009

Warming the Soul - Work to Do

It felt like one of those muggy Carolina 90/90s, ninety degrees Fahrenheit and ninety percent humidity, and the deck thermometer, caught in full sun, was pegged at 120. I was soaked to the skin and thinking that gills might just have been more effective than lungs in this soup. And, oddly enough, I was worried about keeping warm.

That hot mid-summer afternoon, I was continuing the transformation of two toppled 60-foot red oaks, easily 36 inches at their bases, into 14 inch pieces of firewood using only an axe, a couple of iron wedges, and a small sledge. This was no afternoon job, but months worth of afternoons, stolen hours here and there, work sometimes, therapy others. Chopping wood in summer heat is no picnic, but as much as possible of the recently dropped oaks needed to be split, soon, so that the stove-sized logs would have enough time to properly dry before this winter's chill arrived. I couldn’t help but think, though, that if I could have harnessed the heat that was radiating from the top of my head, we wouldn’t need the wood.

In truth, we really don’t need the firewood as we have two perfectly functional heat pumps supporting our home in the woods. But, over the past couple of years, I have come to appreciate the difference between heat and warmth. Those modern space age heat pumps may provide the house with heat for the body, but my ancient iron Fisher wood stove provides it with warmth for both body and soul. The difference is profound.

With the heat pumps, you set your desired temperature and walk away, for months. Using the wood stove, you stay in constant tune with the climate, inside and out, physical and mental. You are responsible for your comfort and, more importantly, the comfort of those around you. You soak in the feel of the room, the rises and falls in the stove’s coals, and the effects of the outside forces of nature. You study the weather, planning what wood needs to be set aside, what needs to be covered in case of rain or snow, what fuel you will need to get through the night, what needs to be staged for the week. You are intimately, immediately engaged with the primal forces surrounding you, becoming a cog in nature’s machine. Summer muscle converted to winter heat.

I could go on at length, as you can imagine, but will spare you that, for the moment. Besides, heating your home is probably far from your mind, here in the dying days of summer. But be assured that you have not heard the last of this. As fall progresses and winter approaches, there will be more about the effort, the wood, the stove, and the primal connection that this source of natural warmth provides.

Crazy? Perhaps. But humor me a while.

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